Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) is a herbaceous perennial that belongs to the mint family Lamiaceae. It’s native to southern Europe and the Middle East. It produces lovely purple flowers (usually, though sometimes they’re pink, red or white) in spring and summer and as with other plants in the mint family, its leaves are aromatic and edible. It’s also used in perfume.
Hyssop is known to be a useful medicinal plant as it has antibiotic and antiviral properties. It’s often used as an expectorant and to treat sore throats and colds. Due to documented adverse effects, it should not be used during pregnancy, by children or by anyone with a history of seizures. Its effects during lactation are unknown and as such the common advice is not to use it while breastfeeding.
Hyssop also has insecticidal properties and may help to keep pest insects away from your house and outdoor eating areas.
How to grow hyssop
Hyssop can be grown from seed. The seeds are tiny and can take a while to germinate (at least 14-21 days usually) so I recommend starting them in punnets indoors. They can then be transplanted when the seedlings are large enough, after the last frost if you’re in a frost area.
If you only want one hyssop plant, you may be better off buying a seedling as these are readily available.
Another alternative is to propagate hyssop via root division or cuttings. If you (or a friend) have an established hyssop plant, you can divide it or strike either softwood or hardwood cuttings.
Once established, hyssop needs very little attention. It’s drought tolerant and isn’t susceptible to very many diseases. It’s not very attractive to pest insects either.
Hyssop grows best in full sun though it will usually grow well in partial shade as well. It prefers well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter.
You can grow it in the garden or in containers. It’s suitable for rock gardens and popular in herb gardens.
If you want to save hyssop seeds, wait until the seed capsules are completely brown and dry.
Companion planting with hyssop
Hyssop is a fantastic companion plant. As an aromatic plant, it protects other plants from pest insects that find their favourite foods by smell. And as a taller plant, it can shade delicate plants and deter pests that find their favourite foods by looking at the shapes of plants.
Hyssop is particularly useful for attracting bees and other beneficial insects. It can also make an effective trap crop for cabbage butterflies.
Hyssop also actively repels some soil and airborne pests.
Where possible, avoid planting hyssop near radishes.
Hyssop in permaculture
Given its wide variety of uses, hyssop is a useful plant in permaculture as it can easily play three or more roles in any garden.
- The leaves and flowers are useful for flavouring meats, fish, vegetables, salads and even cakes. It can also be used to flavour absinthe.
- The flowers can attract beneficial insects.
- The leaves and roots produce chemicals that can deter pests.
- It has medicinal properties.
You might start hyssop from seed in zone 0 (the home). For most of its life though, it’s likely to fit best in zone 2 (less intensively managed but still visited regularly) or possibly zone 3 (seasonal crops and only occasionally visited), unless you eat hyssop daily (in which case you could put it in zone 1).